Having nothing better to do, I decided to spend Monday morning on the DMACC campus for a spring career fair. I wanted to wander around and ask questions to people to try and gauge their perception of the job market, but I had no intention of simply administering a poll. No, I was going to make people defend their statements by asking why they held that belief, like Socrates but without the profoundness.
I asked jobseekers if they were feeling optimistic or pessimistic. I asked recruiters about what kind of people they are looking for, both in terms of skills and personality.
Optimistic, They Think
Personally, I believe that optimism is stupid and should be hated, but I appear to be alone in this sentiment. Not one person admitted feeling pessimistic when asked directly, but when asked why they felt optimistic the responses were not very convincing. Most of them professed to be “upbeat” people, none of them based their professed optimism on confidence in finding employment.
One guy challenged me to explain how a person could get out of bed without being optimistic; I explained that getting out of bed has more to do with an urgent need for urination than a sunny disposition.
With only minimal coaxing I got a number of people to divulge some worries they held about finding work that paid sufficient wages to get on with their lives. This was the sentiment from some cosmetologists and a video store clerk who found my line of questioning strange but entertaining.
One young lady had experience in call center collections. I always wondered what people with lip rings ended up doing for a living, and now I know.
One quite profound comment I received was from a jobseeker who was leaving when I spoke to him. He was feeling pretty good about the day, and explained that it was because he actually got to speak with real-life people about getting a job, which is a novelty in a world where everything is now done online.
What the Recruiters Had to Say
Not just wanting to badger the jobseekers, as lunch approached and the crowd thinned out I began focusing on the recruiters – I was willing to be obnoxious but did not want to be disruptive, so waiting until the recruiters had nothing to do seemed like the polite way to go about things.
I asked the recruiters about what kind of people they are looking for, both in terms of job skills and personality.
In terms of available jobs, IT professionals, nursing at all levels, and financial advisors appear to be in growing demand in Iowa; I would speculate that this is due to the aging population needing health care and financial services in greater numbers.
Sales positions were a bit harder to come by, warehousing and light manufacturing appear to be evening out, and accounting positions are open but require some specific knowledge of one area of accounting, which could make job hunting difficult for some of the accounting professionals.
I spoke at some length with a recruiter about what sort of personality her company seeks. Her comments boiled down to “a networking, outgoing, team player with a Type A personality.” It sounded to me that everyone needs to be a sales rep even if they aren’t a sales rep. She agreed with that sentiment.
Sorting personalities is largely bull wash, but there are clear differences between people who prefer boisterous activity to pensive reflection. I vaguely remember going to some sort of leadership conference in college where we were sorted into Blue, Orange, Gold and Green personalities. I don’t remember the test, but I do remember being in the smallest group.
I ran the Introvert-Extrovert angle by some other recruiters. They all agreed with the first recruiter, which I found annoying because I am the more pensive, less diplomatic, scowling type who prefers libraries to call centers – “an atmosphere as restful as an undiscovered tomb,” as Professor Henry Higgins put it.
The National Career Readiness Certificate Strikes Again
Iowa Workforce Development was there to push the NCRC, which I didn’t expect although it didn’t surprise me. The NCRC is being rolled out through the Skilled Iowa Initiative under the supervision of the Lieutenant Governor.
The effort is two-pronged, in that they must convince people to take the test, as well as convince employers to value the results in their hiring efforts – not to mention informing employers that the NCRC is a thing that exists, because most of them still don’t.
Perhaps the whole thing was absolutely pointless. Maybe all I did was waste time, irritate many, and perhaps amuse a few people who aren’t used to being accosted by a random guy asking inane questions, but I encourage all of you to try it sometime because it is sort of fun.
The people I spoke with seemed intelligent, capable people who were eager to work. The recruiters seemed happy to speak to me as well as to jobseekers. Whether it will translate into actual people obtaining actual jobs, I may never know.
Nobody seemed terribly confident. People professed to be optimistic but didn’t know why, recruiters thought people should be optimistic but couldn’t explain why, and the various workforce organizations thought that they had the answers – new tests, new skills, and new strategies – but couldn’t explain why these medicines would work in the actual economy.
I left more convinced than ever of one thing; the American economy doesn’t work for a large number of people. In such an economy, the only real opportunities are the ones you make yourself. There was a time when most Americans had independent livelihoods, and I think it is time to re-examine self-employment.
Despite what you hear from politicians, the government hates self-sufficient people – they are too difficult to tax. It is much easier to tax a Bud Fox (Wall Street) than a Charles Ingalls (Little House on the Prairie,) which explains so much about our nation if you stop and about it.
We need as many people as possible to be as independent as possible from the mainstream economy; not just independent from government support, but people who don’t need to work for others to earn a living. In such a world, the career fair becomes absurd as a concept, not just made absurd by a little Socratic questioning.
About the Author
Mr. Waechter is an attorney and a recent graduate of Drake University.
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